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Ric’s 7-Tier Interval Matrix©

Alternative Training For Highly Motivated Runners  

By Coach Ric Rojas
Boulder, CO 11/18/2016

If I had nickel for every time I heard the phrase, “I hate the track and I’m never going there!” from a runner, I would be a wealthy man. It could be argued, from a seasoned track coach, that this hatred of track interval workouts is simply a function of lack of understanding, unwillingness to learn, or fear of the unknown. Or, it could be that fearful runners have had one or more bad track workouts, thus drawing the conclusion that track workouts amount to nothing but pain and agony.

The reality is that appropriate track workouts can make a significant difference in performance, and for world class athletes, an essential training component in producing world-class times. Such workouts are simply a given for virtually all highly competitive or world-class athletes. I argue that any runner can enjoy and greatly benefit from a more open approach to the track.

As a runner and coach, I have either completed or supervised thousands of track workouts, and have developed workouts that are not only productive in terms of yielding progressively better times, but immensely satisfying and enjoyable for the runner. Creating and executing fun and productive track intervals can add to a coach’s skill set and certainly help runners improve their times and enhance their training and competitive experiences.

Here is a matrix of seven “Interval Tiers” that I have developed and which may be helpful in planning a single workout or a workout sequence over a season. I have reduced Interval Training to a few basic categories, but, in reality, there are an infinite number of combinations that could be created. I routinely use all of these Tiers, and constantly experiment with new combinations depending on my clients’ goals, training phase, and preferences/responsiveness.

A few basic operating principles apply to my interval system:

  1. The focus is always on completing a specific assignment per the planned workout, adhering to the planned volume, intensity, and rest intervals.
  2. The emphasis is rarely to “max out”/run maximum exertion effort.
  3. These workouts always are progressively harder over time as a measured by exertion, speed, and, if available, heart rate.
  4. The workouts are always “progressive” – the exertion level increases over the course of the session as the runner’s warm-up.
  5. The workouts always have specific performance numbers/exertion levels associated with each interval rep.
  6. The workouts may be modified depending on the runners current training capacity.

Ric’s Seven Interval Tiers

 1: Basic Even-Pace Intervals

  • Description: Hold all variables constant: Number, Distance, Speed, Recovery, Perceived Exertion
  • Number of reps: Pre-planned
  • Interval Distance: Constant
  • Rest Interval: Constant
  • Speed/Perceived Exertion: Constant
  • Application: This basic interval format is designed to program pace/train for “personal best” even-pace racing. Good for any level from beginner to experienced. Not ideal for athletes who may need varying speeds/accelerations for racing situations (surging & kicking). This format does not allow the runner to start more conservatively and gradually warm-up, as would be the case in “Level 3” below. So, the average should be more conservative.
  • Example: 12x400m@ 80-seconcls w/ 90-second recover

2: Increase/Decrease Recovery Interval

  • Description: Hold variables, except for recovery, constant
  • Number of reps: Pre-planned
  • Interval Distance: Constant
  • Rest Interval: Gradually increases
  • Speed/Perceived Exertion: Constant
  • Application: Even-pace racing. Allows progressively more recovery in order to metabolize lactic acid/maintain eve-pace as the workout progresses.
  • Example:5x1000m @ 5:45 w/progressively longer recovery: 2:30/3:00/3:15/3:35. The rest interval is increased in order to maintain even pace on the interval.
3: Progressively Faster Intervals
  • Description: Run each rep or set of reps increasingly faster
  • Interval Distance: Constant
  • Rest Interval: Hold constant or increase
  • Speed/Perceived Exertion: Run each rep or set of reps increasingly faster
  • Application: This format allows a gradual transition from warm-up to faster, more aggressive intervals toward the end of the workout. This workout is designed to focus on higher intensity within last two-thirds of the sequence.
  • Example 1: 6x (2x200m): 90/88/84/82/80 w/ 90-sec. recovery
  • Example 2: “Reverse Ladder”: 1600/1200/800/400 w/1600 @ 5K Race Pace/1200 @ 5K Pace minus 10-Seconds per Mile; 800 @ 5K Pace minus 20-seconds/Mile; 400 @ 5K Pace minus 30 seconds/Mile with a full recovery.
4: Alternating Interval Distance Variations
  • Description: Varying interval distances targeting multiple race distances.
  • Interval Distance: Two or more distances such as 400/200
  • Rest Interval: may vary depending on previous interval: Should allow sufficient time to hit target interval times.
  • Speed/Perceived Exertion: Race pace or slightly faster for specific race distances
  • Application: Training for two or more distances in the same workout.
  • Example: 8x (400/200):400s in 85 sec; 200, in 40-sec. w/ 90/75-sec recovery.

5: Accelerations

  • Description: Hold variables constant; embed accelerations within selected intervals
  • Interval Distance: constant
  • Rest Interval: May vary depending on intensity of interval
  • Speed/Perceived Exertion: Accelerations simulate “surging” and “kicking” in a race.
  • Application: Race situation simulation
  • Example: 5 x 600m: 1. Even pace (slightly slower than race pace) /transition; 2. Surge middle 200m; 3. Race pace; 4. Kick last 200m; 5. Even pace/faster than race pace Repeat 4. This format includes “In/Out” workouts (alternating “fast and fast-partial recovery”). Steve Prefontaine’s “30/40” 200-meter workout is an example of this format.
6: Race Simulation
  • Description: This format incorporates practice starts & finishes and optional surges at various points on the track and in the course of the workout. This should be a fun interactive workout before a race and after heavy workouts are done.
  • Interval Distance: Usually shorter to allow more reps.
  • Rest Interval: Nearer to full recovery
  • Speed/Perceived Exertion: Fast but Short/ lower
  • Application: Usually a “pre-race” workout designed to prepare for rare-specific competitive situations. Not necessary to run high exertion levels.
  • Example: 4 x (2x150m): set 1: Race pace; Set 2: Alternate practice start Finish; Set 3: Race pace; Set 4: Repeat set 2.

7: Bookends

  • Description: This is a hybrid workout combining tempo running and speed work. The workout starts and ends with short “Tempo” runs (usually 600m to 1600m) to add volume to a basic speed session.
  • Interval Distance: Tempos are usually 600m to 1600m and the intervals are short, usually 10-12 x 150’s or 200’s, run progressively faster.
  • Rest Interval: Just enough to hit target interval times
  • Speed/Perceived Exertion: Tempo’s only moderate; intervals are race pace or faster.
  • Application: Speed development. Later season session work for racing shorter distances while retaining workout volume.
  • Example: 600m/ 3 x (4x200m)/600m: Tempo effort (10K Pace)
  • /Start with 5000m pace and run progressively faster /Tempo effort.

Notes:

  • These are coach-athlete interactive workouts. They require good communication and attentive coaching.
  • The coach should be adept at reading body language/listening to verbal queue’s, monitoring exertion levels, and making adjustments to optimize the workout. In order to do this with a group, the coach can’t run with his or her athletes. It is simply impossible to see the runners if the coach is running anywhere in the group.
  • Work out details need to be documented before the workout. Modifications can be made according to the athlete’s performance. For example, the workout maybe terminated prematurely or extended; the intensity/speed may be changed; or the sequence may be modified. The changes can be made based on how athlete is feeling/managing the workout, weather conditions, or if training objectives are met prior to completing the workout, etc.